Ladies, reclaim your cycle!

Eleanor Morgan’s Hormonal: A Conversation About Women’s Bodies, Mental Health and Why We Need to Be Heard is a manual on how to feel empowered as an oestrogen laden lady.

Fleabag fans, you’ll remem­ber this series-steal­ing scene. Women are born with pain built in. It’s our phys­i­cal des­tiny. Peri­od pain, sore boobs, child­birth, you know. We car­ry it with­in our­selves through­out our lives,” says Belin­da (Kristin Scott Thomas) to Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). And we have it all going on in here, inside. We have pain on a cycle for years and years and years. And then, just as you feel you’re mak­ing peace with it all, what hap­pens? The menopause comes.”

Twit­ter erupt­ed into a flur­ry of praise for this hon­est account of female hor­mones – spark­ing a con­ver­sa­tion around top­ics that have long been taboo. But it’s not just Fleabag that’s ignit­ing such dis­cus­sions. Recent­ly there’s been a sig­nif­i­cant shift in the nar­ra­tive sur­round­ing female hor­mones and Eleanor Mor­gan is one of the forces at its core. 

To be hor­mon­al” has long been seen as a crit­i­cism. A dig at women for being too sen­si­tive”, while under­min­ing their exis­tence and fuelling their inner self-doubt. Fed up of being told: It’s just your hor­mones” and feel­ing duped by her innate biol­o­gy, Mor­gan set out to research the mud­dy med­ical world in hope some sol­id answers.

Hor­mon­al: A Con­ver­sa­tion About Women’s Bod­ies, Men­tal Health and Why We Need to Be Heard is the result of the writer’s deep dive. Draw­ing from both sci­ence and the author’s per­son­al expe­ri­ences, the book breaks down the myths and com­mon assump­tions that under­pin soci­ety. Span­ning PMS, men­stru­a­tion, menopause, hor­mon­al replace­ment ther­a­py and the #MeToo move­ment, Hor­mon­al acts as a man­u­al on how to feel empow­ered as an oestro­gen laden lady. The bot­tom line being: There is a pow­er in know­ing our­selves better.”

So, did she find answers to com­bat her inter­nal woes? In short – yes, read on to find out…

Tell us a bit about your own expe­ri­ences with hormones? 

I expe­ri­ence real­ly bad PMS and ter­ri­ble anx­i­ety before my peri­od. I get into that hor­ri­ble state of exam­in­ing my entire life, rela­tion­ships, work – all of it. I’ve lived with anx­i­ety for years and years and didn’t real­ly do any­thing about it. But I realised that my month­ly cycle was absolute­ly a part of it and that it def­i­nite­ly seems to be get­ting worse as I get older.

What exact­ly made you decide to write and research this book?

It has a per­son­al aspect which is my own jour­ney” into try­ing to treat my pre­men­stru­al anx­i­ety. After my first book I retrained as a psy­chol­o­gist and I start­ed doing more in depth research about women’s health and realised just how impre­cise the sci­ence is, espe­cial­ly in terms of how our hor­mon­al fluc­tu­a­tions affect our brain chem­istry and mood. There are a whole wealth of con­ver­sa­tions that women have about peri­ods, our inter­nal bod­ies, vagi­nas and blood that still hap­pen in secret, which in soci­ety are a last taboo. I thought it was impor­tant to have that in a book and to think about how all of these things affect our expe­ri­ence of our­selves and our expe­ri­ence of our body. 

Why do you think there is such a stig­ma sur­round­ing peri­ods, PMS

The stig­ma around female biol­o­gy is as old as we are as a race. His­tor­i­cal­ly female blood was seen as dirty – like a con­t­a­m­i­nate. In 2019 our med­ical sys­tem still has tiny echoes of the past pre­dom­i­nant­ly male med­ical sys­tem, where women’s pain wasn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly tak­en seri­ous­ly because the mean­ing of that pain was decid­ed for us. Men would be lock­ing women up in asy­lums when they were depressed, anx­ious or even just want­ed a divorce. We’ve his­tor­i­cal­ly been expect­ed to be neat and con­tained. Peo­ple just don’t want to think about that messy stuff but it’s a real­i­ty for half of the population.

How do you think your book will help break down these stig­mas?

This is a book that’s empow­er­ing through infor­ma­tion. It’s a guide to find­ing a dif­fer­ent mean­ing in terms of expe­ri­ences that we all have, and not being so quick to judge our­selves as a hor­mon­al mess. Hav­ing knowl­edge of how the sys­tems around us work is pow­er and acknowl­edg­ing our posi­tion with­in. As a woman who wants to seek some type of treat­ment for heavy peri­ods or PMS, acknowl­edg­ing how the sys­tem you will enter is set up is so important. 

Was there one thing that you read, researched or talked to some­one about that you found real­ly empow­er­ing whilst research­ing this book? 

There was a moment when I went to inter­view this very promi­nent gyne­col­o­gist [Dr Nick Panay] and he said that it’s nev­er just your mood before your peri­od”. He explained that if you’re feel­ing like you’re hav­ing very bad PMS, it’s impor­tant to rememer the fact that it’s not just biol­o­gy. Ini­tial­ly it was a knee-jerk reac­tion where I thought Oh god, I real­ly must just be mad.” And then thought, actu­al­ly no it kind of means the oppo­site. If biol­o­gy can’t explain every­thing like we think it can, then what else is there? It made me think about the social his­to­ry of all this, what are the social pres­sures that make me analyse my mood and behav­iours so rig­or­ous­ly? It’s just my hor­mones.” No – it could nev­er be just your hormones. 

What is the best way to make men under­stand some­thing that is so inher­ent­ly female? 

It’s reliant on com­pas­sion and empa­thy. I would hope that if a man has an inter­est in their part­ner, friend, sis­ter or mum’s gen­er­al well­be­ing, they would want to know. I think if some­one loves you and you say Look, this is how I feel some­times. This is what I think it may be, I hope you would be inter­est­ed in learn­ing why.” I often think it’s reliant on just start­ing a con­ver­sa­tion, because we often have expec­ta­tions around what peo­ple should already know or what peo­ple should feel. I think you’d be sur­prised at how open men can be if you take the ini­tia­tive because it might not occur to them to bring it up. 

What’s your go-to PMS care package?

I don’t let myself get hun­gry because there’s a hor­mone which we pro­duce when we’re hun­gry called Ghre­lin, which is the hangry” hor­mone that makes us feel anx­ious and it’s some­thing we feel more sig­nif­i­cant­ly when we’re pre­men­stru­al. So I eat a lot. I eat shit loads. I don’t real­ly hold back. On the emo­tion­al side of things, I prac­tice mind­ful­ness. Work­ing in psy­chol­o­gy I rec­om­mend it all the time. Mov­ing, sleep­ing, eat­ing and com­mu­ni­cat­ing and try­ing not to iso­late myself because I always feel worse when I do that. 

Hor­mon­al: A Con­ver­sa­tion About Women’s Bod­ies, Men­tal Health and Why We Need to Be Heard is out today

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